At the end of the decade it’s easier than ever to get bogged down in the infinite scroll of our mediatized daily lives. Ecological collapse, austerity measures and surging right-wing extremism are a constant, forcing the autonomous zones of independent culture to become shadows of their former selves. If dance music has the potential to be a collective project aimed at cutting through the alienation that ensues, a set of strategies are necessary to combat the dread and spatial dislocation that pervades not only our quotidian existence but, increasingly, our cultural spheres.
In a digital music culture dominated by streaming platforms, artists have been forced to rely on touring for the bulk of their income. Boutique festivals, museum gigs and one-off spectacles have become the norm as DIY scenes and sonically adventurous clubs struggle for their livelihood. Reducing this state of affairs down to a cheeky genre neologism is trite but the material situation is undeniable and no doubt has changed some of the ways the music is considered.Which makes it all the more important to shout the names of the artists who offer an exit from the lowering of expectations imposed by private actors.
Releases from Amazondotcom, Loraine James and Oli XL employ individual, subjective and collective strategies for coping with the alienation illustrated above. Oli XL’s Rogue Intruder, Soul Enhancer is a great place to start, brimming with self-deprecating energy (a sample from Beck’s “Loser’ provides the backbone of “Clumsy”) and an enveloping spatial complexity that obscures the difference between producer, listener and soundsystem. Utilizing a muted sound palette, expressionist synth strokes and blocky percussion, the album offers a subtle route through self-doubt.
James’ For You And I is heart-wrenching and punctuated by stunning moments of anger provided by collaborator Le3 bLACK. Recalling the physical and verbal abuse she’s been forced to deal with while walking around the city, For You And I’s flattened sonic space allows for a montage-like effect to take hold, reconnecting frayed nerve endings through a series of recombinatory sonic and affective gestures. London’s musical history is displayed in fragments on tracks like ‘So Scared’ and ‘Sick 9’ but James isn’t interested in historicization, instead utilizing dub, grime and jungle as prisms to unfold the present.
Refreshing in its provisional relation to technology and the production methods behind its creation, Amazondotcom’s Mirror River comes in as one of the year’s most ruthlessly effective dancefloor records, full of thrilling left turns and an internal sense of groove that never fails to move bodies. Built on hard-to-place samples and a hollowed out compositional approach, the Los Angeles-based artist’s denaturalized, yet organic sounds elicit a rhythmic logic that is as perceptive as it is surreal.
A more general, holistic trend was the emergence of a global collection of artists working across the Chicago and Detroit traditions, as well as UK hardcore ’nuum sounds has been a thrill to observe over the past several years. Avoiding self- and industry-imposed stylistic limitations, artists like Fauzia and Sherelle (whose XTC show on NTS is a must listen every month) have embraced a dynamic sound that treats the borders between club, footwork, hardcore and jungle as immaterial, taking them all in and rejuvenating their histories in the process.
Radio has been home to many of these developments and AceMo, Kush Jones, MoMa Ready and SWISHA’s recently inaugurated show on The Lot has become another key node, each artist highly respected in their own right, but coming together for a joyous marathon session each month. LSDXOXO’s Rinse FM slot has been another key reference point, linking the populist big room techno that seems to be everywhere these days with a keen ear for club music from both ends of the Atlantic.
What connected much of the music that felt immediate and important this year was an almost obsessive concern with the quotidian. This is music intended for the dancefloor that will insinuate itself into your day-to-day existence and that doesn’t shy away from the mundane. As a result, it’s music that collapses the assumed separation between art and life, interfacing with personal and sonic histories as it seeks to shape the present.
33EMYBW – ‘Tentacle Centre’ [SBVKLVT]
8ULENTINA – ‘deep summer’ [Club Chai]
ABOsahar – ‘Wel3aa’ [HIZZ هز]
Air Max ’97 – ‘Turgor’ [DECISIONS]
Amazondotcom – ‘A Drum to Ward Off Language’ [Subreal]
Anz – ‘Helps Your Two Hips Move’ [2 B Real]
Ariel Zetina – ‘Putamaria’ [Feat. MORENXXX] [Majia]
Ase Manual – ‘Get A Lick’ [Like That]
AYA (fka LOFT) – ‘That Hyde Trakk’ [Tri Angle]
BADSISTA – ‘MONTAGEM DA XERECA’ [self-released]
BAMBA PANA – ‘KUSINI (SLIKBACK REMIX)’ [self-released]
BFTT – ‘Mauldeth’ [All Centre]
BLOODZ BOI 血男孩 – ‘白 /Black Or White (Prod. by Epic B)’ [Feat. Organ Tapes] [self-released]
Byrell the Great – ‘Vanity’s Gospel’ [Feat. Dicki Destruction & Kevin Jz Prodigy] [self-released]
CalvoMusic & Zfrek – ‘Shak3 MY @SS’ [self-released]
Crystallmess – ‘FLESH’ [Country Music]
Color Plus – ‘Hair Dun Nails Dun’ [self-released]
Deli Girls – ‘Indentured Pervert (Debby Friday Noisemix)’ [self-released]
DJ Delish – ‘Musical Chairs’ [Sweat Equity]
DJ Lag & Okzharp – ‘Nyusa’ [Hyperdub]
DJ Nate – ‘You Ain’t Ready To Battle’ [Planet Mu]
DJ Nigga Fox – ‘Talanzele’ [Príncipe]
DJ Plead – ‘Crush and Burn’ [Nervous Horizon]
E-Saggila – ‘Alia’ [Feat. Thoom] [Northern Electronics]
Florentino – ‘Na Fuga’ [Feat. MC Bin Laden + MC Buzzz] [Mixpak]
Gabber Modus Operandi – ‘Calon Arang’ [SVBKVLT]
Hmurd – ‘Shepard’s Delight’ [TT]
Jennifer Walton – ‘SCAPE’ [Mutalism]
KABLAM – ‘Innominata’ [Self-Release]
Know V.A. – ‘Ellende’ [Signal Life]
London Jade – ‘All Crazy (Leonce Remix)’ [Self-Release]
Loraine James – ‘Sick 9’ [Hyperdub]
M.E.S.H. – ‘Atemlos’ [PAN]
MC JESSI – ‘AQFFE (LAZA EDIT)’ [Tormenta]
MC Yallah & Debmaster – ‘Dunia’ [Hakuna Kulala]
MC TH – ‘Dia Delas (XPATTYSON edit)’ [self-release]
Mighty Mark – ‘Who What Want What (DJ AyyMello Remix)’ [Hands Up! Records]
NYOP – ‘Whoa’ [self-release]
Oli XL – ‘Flower Circuit’ [Bloom]
Nazar – ‘2 African Sickos’ [Feat. Citizen Boy] [self-released]
Nkisi – ‘II’ [UIQ]
Precolumbian & Estoc – ‘CCT01’ [APOCALIPSIS]
SCRAAATCH – ‘DON’T TALK TO ME’ [self-released]
Slikback & Hyph11E – ‘ISHU’ [SVBKVLT]
SHYGIRL – ‘BB’ [NUXXE]
Strict Face – ‘Intraheat’ [NLV]
SWISHA – ‘Reconstructed Club’ [self-released]
UNIIQU3 – ‘LSD’ [self-released]
Uninamise – ‘PAIN’ [self-released]
Xyn Cabal – ‘NOWEI’ [Death of Rave]
Find all of FACT’s year-end coverage here.